Film & TV

Content for Xmas: Storytelling in Ads


Katie Houston

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, is it not? The Halloween costumes have been taken off the shelves and replaced immediately with advent calendars, gift wrap and christmas cards – even the odd mince pie. You overhear conversations about Christmas songs, usually either with one of two  responses- ‘really?!’ or a complete rendition of Mariah Carey.

But, what a lot of us actually look forward to about the months leading up to the big day are the television adverts. Gone are the days of stores showing us which particular product they are pushing that year. Each year, we are now greeted with strong narratives in our ads. It was in 2011 when I first noticed a difference

A shot of a semi-detached house in the suburbs of  a city. A soft piano medley comes in. It is a cold morning. There is a mist in the air and frost dusts the paths and rooftops. A light flicks on. Cue a little boy jumping excitedly out of bed and opening the first door of his advent calendar. His eyes scan across the painted doors, the camera paning from the number one all the way to twenty four. It feels like a lifetime away. The boy sighs at this realisation. Cut to the boy later sat down, throwing a tennis ball at the wall repeatedly, annoyingly. Cut to the boy tapping the table in boredom. Cut to the boy watching a clock on the wall and willing the seconds to tick by. Cut to a montage of images that increasingly show the boy’s frustration that Christmas is just simply too far away. Cut to Christmas Eve. Cut to the boy shoveling his dinner as fast as humanly possible, running upstairs, jumping into bed and screwing his eyes up tight.

Cut to Christmas morning.

Cut to the little boy jumping out of bed…

… but running past the presents that wait at the end.

Cut to the little boy pulling out a ‘rustically’ wrapped present.

Cut to a waking mother. Cut to the little boy holding this present with arms outstretched and a big grin on his face.

Cue text on screen: “for gifts you can’t wait to give”

Cue text: “John Lewis”

Cut to me wiping the tears away from my eyes.

This is the first example that I remember of Christmas adverts becoming more like films and displaying a strong narrative story throughout. And now it has become a tradition. People look forward to the new Christmas ads,  they sit down and watch together to see whether their friends cry. The adverts become news and talking points for weeks and weeks. Some of the adverts are so popular they even become parodies for other brands.

There has been a change in recent years. Consumers are now demanding content from the advertisements they are going to watch. They want something with a story or a meaning or song to sing along to. They don’t want to be sold something anymore. They want something worthy of their time. They want short films. They want behind-the-scenes content. They want to see reactions.

And if over the months leading up to Christmas, they are going to be plowing their hard money into these businesses, then they want something back. After all, isn’t Christmas a time for sharing?

(Stay tuned for thoughts on the 2017 John Lewis advert…)

Categories: Film & TV

Tagged as:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s